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Ukraine war: Five things you need to know

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By Alasdair Sandford & Joshua Askew  with AFP/AP/Reuters
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A Ukrainian special operations unit soldier lays a Germany-donated DM22 directional anti-tank mine on the Russian troops' potential path in the Donetsk region, June 14, 2022.
A Ukrainian special operations unit soldier lays a Germany-donated DM22 directional anti-tank mine on the Russian troops' potential path in the Donetsk region, June 14, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

1. US pledges more aid to Ukraine and calls on allies to step up

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a new tranche of military aid to Ukraine, including additional artillery and shells, as well as anti-ship missiles, totalling $1 billion (€0.95 billion).

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin on Wednesday called on US allies to "step up" arms deliveries to Ukraine. Poland's prime minister also called on NATO members to send more weapons and artillery, ahead of a meeting of alliance defence ministers.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO countries will continue to provide more modern heavy weapons and long-range systems to Ukraine.

However, he added, "sometimes these efforts take time", as the Ukrainian military needs to be trained to use more modern equipment as it makes the transition from Soviet-era equipment, as supplies dwindle.

The two-day meeting that began on Wednesday is discussing beefing up weapons supplies to Ukraine, and Sweden and Finland's applications to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

Stoltenberg said he expected allies to agree a new package of assistance to Kyiv at a wider NATO summit in Madrid later this month.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, tweeted on Wednesday that he gets a daily message from Ukrainian forces in the Donbas saying they were "holding on", and asking "when to expect the weapons?”. He said that is the same message he has for NATO leaders.

Podolyak has said Ukraine needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones among other heavy weapons. Western countries have promised NATO-standard weapons, including advanced US rockets.

NATO allies initially supplied Ukraine with Soviet-era heavy weapons from their stockpiles because the Ukrainians had been trained to use them. Washington also recently delivered M777 howitzers, the latest generation of American artillery.

The defence ministers meeting this week also plan to discuss moves to beef up forces along NATO’s eastern flank and elsewhere, which have gathered pace since Russia invaded Ukraine.

2. Russia accuses Ukraine over Sievierodonetsk humanitarian corridor

Fierce fighting has reportedly continued in the ruined eastern Donbas city at the heart of the current Russian offensive, seemingly scuppering hopes for the evacuation of civilians from the Azot chemical plant.

On Wednesday the Russian defence ministry accused Kyiv's forces of preventing a planned humanitarian corridor from operating. "The Kyiv authorities cynically failed the humanitarian operation," a statement said.

Earlier, the Russian RIA news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying Ukrainian forces had sabotaged the plan. No evidence was offered and the claim could not be verified. 

The previous day, Russia's defence ministry said it would open up safe passage to the north for "all civilians", but to Russian-controlled territory.

Ukraine, which did not agree to the corridor, says Russia has continued to attack the city. It ignored a Russian ultimatum to surrender the city, after Russia told Ukrainian forces at the Azot plant to stop "senseless resistance and lay down arms" from Wednesday morning.

Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said after the early morning deadline passed that Russian forces were trying to storm the city from several directions. But, he added, Ukrainian forces continued to defend it and were not completely cut off.

Ukrainian governor of Luhansk Serhiy Haidai on Wednesday told AP that “heavy fighting" was continuing in Sievierodonetsk and the situation was getting worse, as the Ukrainians were outnumbered in manpower and weapons.

"Our military is holding back the enemy from three sides at once,” Haidai said. “The enemy is advancing because of significant advantage in artillery and people, but the Ukrainian army is holding on to its positions in the city.”

Local Ukrainian authorities say more than 500 Ukrainian civilians, including 40 children, are holed up in the large plant which is under constant bombardment. An unknown number of fighters are also believed to be there.

3. IKEA looks to sell Russian factories and cut staff

IKEA has said it will sell factories, close offices and reduce its nearly 28,000-strong workforce in Russia.

The world’s biggest furniture brand already had suspended operations at its 17 Russian stores and paused exports and imports involving the country. It also paused operations in Russian ally Belarus.

The Swedish company has continued paying employees and will do so until the end of August. It now says it does not see any possibility to resume sales in the foreseeable future in Russia, where it opened its first store in 2000.

“The war in Ukraine has already had a terrible impact on so many people’s lives. It is a human tragedy that is continuing to affect people and communities,” Ikea said in a statement on its website.

“Unfortunately the circumstances have not improved and the devastating war continues,” the retailer said. "Businesses and supply chains across the world have been heavily impacted and we do not see that it is possible to resume operations any time soon."

The companies that control Ikea operations in Belarus and Russia therefore “have now each decided to enter a new phase to further scale down."

Brand owner Inter IKEA, which is in charge of supply, said it would now start looking for buyers for its four factories, permanently close two purchase and logistics offices in Moscow and Minsk and cut staff.

There has been a mass corporate exodus from Russia as Western companies rushed to comply with Western sanctions and amid threats the Kremlin would seize foreign assets.

4. Macron seeks to clarify Russia comments

French President Emmanuel Macron has said it is time for Europe to send a strong message of support to Ukraine, as he sought to clarify his position following criticism over his recent comments on the need not to "humiliate Russia".

"I think we are at a moment where we need to send clear political signals, we the European Union, towards Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in a context where they have been resisting in a heroic way for several months," he told French and NATO troops at a military base in Romania.

Macron, on a three-day visit to Ukraine's neighbours, refused to confirm reports quoting diplomatic sources as saying that he is planning to visit Kyiv along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

He said French support for Ukraine was clear and involved no "indulgence" towards Moscow.

"But we want to build peace," he insisted. "At some point, when we have helped the most to resist, when I hope, Ukraine will have won and especially that the fire will have stopped, we will have to negotiate. The Ukrainian president (...) will have to negotiate with Russia and we Europeans will be around the table."

The French president's visit to Europe's eastern flank is his first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Both Macron and Romania's President Iohannis cited cooperation in working to secure the export of Ukrainian grain by lifting the Russian blockade of the port of Odesa.

Macron then flew to neighbouring Moldova, where he said its bid to join the European Union was "perfectly legitimate" and described the country as already "anchored within the European family".

President Maia Sandu, speaking alongside him, said Moldova wanted to become an EU member "as soon as possible. But we are realists and we understand that we still have a lot to do."

Moldova is one of three former Soviet states, along with Georgia and Ukraine, to have applied to join the EU since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

5. Russia cuts natural gas flows to Europe again

Russia's Gazprom announced a reduction in natural gas flows through a key European pipeline for the second day in a row on Wednesday. 

The state-owned energy giant said that deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany would be cut again on Thursday, bringing the overall reduction through the undersea pipeline to 60%.

Gazprom has blamed Canadian sanctions which have disrupted the supply of equipment. But Germany's Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck has called the move "political" rather than the result of technical problems, describing Russia's reasoning as "an excuse".

“Obviously the strategy is to unsettle people and push up prices,” he said in a statement.

Gazprom also told Italian gas giant Eni that it would reduce gas through a different pipeline by roughly 15% on Wednesday. The reason for the reduction has not been made clear, and the Italian company said it was monitoring the situation.

Italy last year sourced 40% of its gas imports from Russia.

The reduced flows to two of Europe's biggest importers of Russian natural gas follow the country's previous halt of gas supplies to Bulgaria, Poland, Finland, Netherlands, Denmark.

The European Union has outlined plans to reduce dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds by year’s end.

On Wednesday the EU signed a deal in Cairo with Egypt and Israel to increase liquified natural gas sales to EU countries. Israel will send more gas via Egypt, which has facilities to liquify it for export by sea, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.